Nāmūs is the Arabic word (Greek "νόμος") of a concept of an ethical category, a virtue, in Middle Eastern patriarchal character. Literally translated as "virtue", it is now more popularly used in a strong gender-specific context of relations within a family described in terms of honor, attention, respect/respectability, and modesty.


The Arabic word "nāmūs" (ناموس) may mean "law", "custom" or "honor". The Ancient Greek word "nómos" (νόμος) means "law, custom".[1][self-published source]


Namus has been translated into English from the Turkish language with different meanings. Honor is used to mean namus in the English language translation of Filiz Kardam's 2005 paper on namus cinayetleri (literally namus murders), but Nüket Kardam has written that chastity is a more accurate translation than honor. By the latter definition, honor is seen as an imperfect translation because the concept of namus implies the idea that men have a right to insist on feminine chastity. This is built into the legal system which permits reduced sentences for honor killings.[2][3]

The Turkish language has multiple words to describe related concepts of honor including namus, onur and şeref. Though namus is often understood as feminine sexual virtue or chastity, this definition is becoming outdated amongst some members of Turkish society. The official definition of namus from the Foundation of Turkish Language is "the attachment of a society to moral rules".[4]

Women's premarital virginity is still regarded as a matter of honor by some families. These cultural perceptions persist in modern metropolitan areas, as well as in the more traditional areas of the rural countryside. Some old-fashioned customs continue to endure, such as requiring proof of virginity in the form of blooded sheets, or in some cases by medical examination. Though Kemalism has contributed to the rapid modernization of the country in many aspects, traditional sexual mores have proven to be resilient. Even those families who encouraged their daughters to pursue professional careers as teachers, doctors or lawyers maintained the expectation that these women would continue to conduct themselves virtuously as "dedicated mothers, and modest housewives".[5]

In some societies, e.g., in Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan, namus goes beyond the basic family and is common for a plarina, a unit of the tribe that has a common ancestral father.[6][better source needed]

Violations of namusEdit

The namus of a man is violated if, for example, a daughter is born into the family instead of a son, or if an adult daughter is not dressed "appropriately", or if he tolerates an offense without reaction.[7][8][9]

Among Pashtuns an encroachment on a man's plot of land also signifies violation of his namus.[6]

Restoration of namusEdit

According to those who adhere to this concept, a man is supposed to control the women in his family. If he loses control of them (his wife, sisters, daughters), his namus is lost in the eyes of the community and he has to cleanse his (and his family's) honor. This is often done by abortion, murder or forced suicide.

In the Western world, such cases are especially visible in immigrant societies when a girl faces the conflict between her choice of the culture of the new home society and the traditions of the old home.[10]

In cases of rape, the woman is not seen as a victim. Instead, it is considered that the namus of the whole family has been violated, and to restore it, an honor killing of the raped woman may happen (estimated 5,000 victims yearly and on the rise worldwide[11]). The raped woman may also commit forced suicide.[12] In Pakistan, acid is often thrown on the victim's face to disfigure her as an alternative to murder.[13]

In British Bangladeshi immigrant culture and in Anatolian Turkish culture the violation of namus can result in the murder of the male involved with the female family member.[14]

Meanwhile, in cases of namus loss due to the arrival of a female child into the family, infanticide or sex-selective abortion may occur.[15]

Namus around the worldEdit

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights gathered reports from several countries and considering only the countries that submitted reports it was shown that honor killings have occurred in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, United States, Canada and Uganda.[16]

In 2002 international attention was drawn to the honor killing of Fadime Şahindal, of the Kurdish minority in Sweden, who violated namus by suing her father and brother for threats made against her and then rejecting the marriage arranged for her.[17]

Support and oppositionEdit

Some Jordanian Islamic groups say that punishment of adulterous wives should be left to the state, while others say Islam advocates that male relatives should carry out the punishment. Yotam Feldner writes, "if honor killing originated in pre-Islamic Arab tribalism, it has long since been incorporated into Islamic society and thereby become common throughout the Muslim world".[18] However, "'Izzat Muhaysin, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Program for Mental Health, [...] says that the culture of the society perceives one who refrains from 'washing shame with blood' as 'a coward who is not worthy of living.'[18]

Hundreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family 'honor'.[13]

In artsEdit

The 1925 Armenian silent film Namus[19] tells the ill fate of two lovers, who were betrothed by their families to each other since childhood, but because of violations of namus, the girl was married by her father to another person. In 2006 it was restored, digitized and dubbed in French.

Abdullah Goran (1904–1962), the modern Kurdish poet, condemned honour killing in his poem "Berde-nûsêk" ("A Tomb-Stone").[17]


In France and in Germany, where there is a large Middle Eastern Muslim diaspora, the women sometimes may resort to cosmetic surgery.[8]

See alsoEdit


  • First Encyclopaedia of Islam: 1913-1936. BRILL. 1993. pp. 844–846. ISBN 90-04-09796-1.


  1. ^ Nişanyan http://www.nisanyansozluk.com/?k=namus, Sevan (2010). "Namus" in Sözlerin Soyağacı: Çağdaş Türkçenin Etimolojik Sözlüğü (A Family Tree of Words: A Contemporary Etymological Dictionary of Turkish) (in Turkish). Istanbul: Adam Yayınları. ISBN 978-975-289-636-9.
  2. ^ Kardam, Nüket (2017-11-30). Turkey's Engagement with Global Women's Human Rights. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-14386-8.
  3. ^ Kardam, Nüket (2017-11-30). Turkey's Engagement with Global Women's Human Rights. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-14386-8.
  4. ^ Demos, Vasilikie; Segal, Marcia Texler (2014-05-12). Gendered Perspectives on Conflict and Violence. Emerald Group Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78350-894-5.
  5. ^ Cindoglu, Dilek (March 1997). "Virginity tests and artificial virginity in modern Turkish medicine". Women's Studies International Forum. 20 (2): 253–261. doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(96)00096-9. ISSN 0277-5395. Retrieved 2018-08-02.
  6. ^ a b Pashtunwali Terminology.
  7. ^ Werner Schiffauer, "Die Gewalt der Ehre. Erklärungen zu einem deutsch-türkischen Sexualkonflikt." ("The Force of the Honour"), Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main, 1983. ISBN 3-518-37394-3.
  8. ^ a b Uli Pieper: Problemfelder und Konflikte von Kindern ausländischer Arbeitsmigranten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a sociological analysis.
  9. ^ Anatomie eines Ehrdelikts ("The Anatomy of Honour Crimes"), by Werner Schiffauer.
  10. ^ A Matter of Honor, Your Honor?, by Rhea Wessel, the first article in her series about the rights of Muslim women in Europe, particularly Turkish women in Germany.
  11. ^ "Ending Violence against Women and Girls", a UNFPA report.
  12. ^ "UN probes Turkey 'forced suicide'", a BBC article, May 24, 2006.
  13. ^ a b Hillary Mayell, Thousands of Women Killed for Family "Honor" National Geographic News February 12, 2002. retrieved 5-1-07
  14. ^ The honour code that drove a family to murder. Times Online. November 04, 2005. retrieved 6-1-07
  15. ^ "1999-2000 Annual Report Issue" (PDF). Kennedy.byu.edu. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-24. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  16. ^ "Thousands of Women Killed for Family "Honor"". National Geographic News. Feb 12, 2002. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
  17. ^ a b Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hassanpour In Memory of Fadime Şahindal: Thoughts on the Struggle Against “Honour Killing” retrieved 5-1-07.
  18. ^ a b "'Honor' Murders: Why the Perps Get off Easy" by Yotam Feldner for Middle East Quarterly, Dec 2000. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
  19. ^ Namus on IMDb

External linksEdit